A few years ago, when Nick Wauters was touring the gay film festival circuit with his short films Ryan’s Life and Neurotica, the idea of having a big-budget series of his own on network television seemed like a far-off fantasy. But Wauters kept plugging away, dipping his toe into mainstream TV first in 2006 by writing an episode of Medium and then as a writer for the science fiction series The 4400 and Eureka.
With Lost ending its six-season run in 2010, it became clear there was an opening for a high-end thriller with enough twists and turns to keep people on lockdown at the water cooler the morning after each episode. On the eve of The Event’s big Monday premiere, Wauters talks about comparisons to Lost and 24, whether we’ll see any gay characters on the show, and why this ride is beyond his wildest dreams.
The Advocate: The promos are everywhere, but for people who aren’t paying attention yet, how would you best describe The Event?
Wauters: The Event is really a high-octane conspiracy thriller about an everyday man, Jason Ritter, whose girlfriend disappears. He goes on a search to find her and in the process discovers that he and his girlfriend have been sucked into this giant conspiracy. The goal is to kind of give it a little bit of a Hitchcockian feel and work with the aspect of the reluctant hero. He’s not your Jack Bauer CIA agent. He’s someone who’s just a regular guy.
You created the show and you’re credited as co-executive producer. What is a typical day for you like on the set?
Well, our typical day is basically coming in pretty early because I created the show — we have a really fantastic writing staff, and most of our writers are executive producers or co-executive producers, they’re very high-level writers. Because I created the show, I get to spend a lot more time working on it every day. I usually come in early, prep for the day — most of the day is spent in the writers’ room, where we break stories and plan the next script. So we spend most of the day writing.
How much of the story have you pretty well mapped out?
Before we actually went into production, part of the development process, I spent a lot of time developing a bible for the show. The script was already written, and I did a rewrite, but most of the work during the development process was this bible. Going into it, I already had a lot of it figured out. Season 1, the steps are really well defined. We kind of know what the pieces of the rest of the story are going to be. So it’s mapped out in detail for season 1, but at the same time we keep an open mind. If a character suddenly takes us somewhere, we take a little detour and explore those surprising stories we hadn’t necessarily expected.
I know Lost and 24 inspired this show. With them off the air this season, is there added pressure for The Event to fill their shoes, or do you not think in those terms?
It’d hard not to think about because it’s discussed so much and because I get really involved in the online process and keeping in touch with our fans. Having been a fan of those shows, it’s definitely something that served as an inspiration. They were great shows that I loved. I think there’s room for it. Hopefully the people who got their weekly fix of serialized thrillers will want more this season, and I think we’re the only show that really has these elements this season, so it’s definitely added pressure, but NBC is behind us 100%, and they’ve been fantastic. For a show like this, you really want people to join the party and check out the first episode so we can continue making the show.
You’ve lined up a pretty impressive cast — Laura Innes, Blair Underwood, Jason Ritter, to name a few. How involved were you in that process?
I was really involved in the entire process. The pilot, I was pretty much coproducing with Steve Stark, who I’ve been working with for several years, and Jeffrey Reiner, who is our director and executive producer. He directed the pilot. It’s such a huge cast too that we were in casting sessions for several hours every day. It was a little bit exhausting after a while, but we had fantastic people come in, and obviously, we were very lucky to get the cast that we now have — Jason Ritter, Laura Innes, Blair Underwood, Zeljko Ivanek. It’s one of those surreal experiences, and our cast is definitely one of the elements I look at, and I still can’t believe I get to work with these people who I admired so much before and now I get to write for them.
Did you have specific actors in mind when you were writing the series?
Not specific actors, but I knew each character well. I actually gave each actor a character profile so that they knew who they were, where they came from, and pretty much had all the details that their character would know about the conspiracy and their involvement in the mystery that’s going on, which is kind of fun. It kind of reinforces excitement among the cast.
Do you expect that you’ll sit in the director’s chair at some point?
I’d love that. I really love directing; it’s kind of on the back burner for now because things have been so crazy and we want to make sure the show is up and running, and once that happens I’ll explore those options, but for now I’m focused on writing.
When you’re writing projects like this, do you consciously think about creating gay characters?
It’s always something that I want to try and include in every project if I can, in general, to make my projects as reflective as possible of the real world. It’s a part of me, so it’s a part of my writing. Whether or not a character is described as openly gay in a script or a pilot, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not. Sometimes in my mind, even if it’s not explicitly said, some of the characters are. It’s definitely something we’ve discussed for this show and that we may explore as we move forward. The show has a fantastically diverse cast, and the show itself, thematically, is about being different. So it’s something I hope we can explore.
So just because we haven’t picked up on a gay character from the pilot, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one there.
You’ve bounced back and forth between mainstream television and smaller, gay- and lesbian-themed projects. Obviously the budget is quite different, but what are some of the other differences for you?
Scope-wise, in terms of the audience, is one thing. But also the involvement. If I’m doing my own project, it’s something I can usually finance myself. I’ll direct it, I’ll edit it. I get to keep more creative control, in a way, which is fantastic. On a project like this, you want to make sure you’re going to appeal to a really large audience. The stakes are much higher. You don’t get to be as involved in every single aspect of the show creatively, but again, you surround yourself with very talented people in each department. Part of me kind of misses the smaller scope of short films, but again, this is such a huge dream come true and I’m enjoying every second.
I know you have a TV series, Ryan’s Life, that is still in the works at here! Networks [owned by the same parent company as The Advocate]. For a time I know you had Rue McClanahan attached, who recently passed. Did you get to spend much time working with her?
Yeah, she was really, really sweet and really passionate about the project, which was a few years ago, just after she’d spent a few months in Wicked on Broadway. I actually flew out to New York to meet with her and that was a crazy experience. Went to her apartment. She basically had costumes from The Golden Girls all over her apartment. She actually got to keep all of them. She bought a bottle of champagne and was like, “Let’s celebrate.” We went over the script, had dinner, and she was just full of energy. She had a fantastic career. I was really looking forward to working with her, and it’s too bad we aren’t going to be able to. I was very sad when she passed away.
You premiere Monday — what are you most excited about?
I’m looking forward to people finally actually seeing the show. Obviously the ads are everywhere: “What is The Event?” I think people are speculating and ready to see it. There’s a lot of excitement out there, and I just want people to see it and hopefully like it.
Comic-Con audiences have seen it. Have you been able to show it to a select group of friends, or are you pretty much on lockdown?
Pretty much on lockdown. I showed the pilot to a couple of friends to get feedback and notes, because creatively you don’t want to lock yourself up with only people who worked on the project. You kind of lose perspective. But yeah, we’ve been trying to keep all our secrets locked up and make sure everything’s a big surprise when it finally airs. Like I said, it’s all very surreal, and I’m just trying to enjoy every moment.
The Event premieres Monday, September 20, at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central on NBC.